A woman believed murdered by her family for more than 80 years eloped from Sussex to Ireland, detectives believe.

Emma Alice Smith disappeared aged 16 while living in Waldron, East Sussex.

Her family later came to believe a man had made a deathbed confession to killing her and dumping her body in a pond.

Sussex Police launched an investigation after a local historian highlighted the case in 2009.

After searching a pond and interviewing people in the area, they now believe she had eloped to Ireland in 1928.

Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Bowles said in a statement: "We have undertaken enquiries on this very old case when other current and more pressing matters have allowed.

This case has never taken priority over current and live cases.

"We have, however, done our very best to establish the truth for the family of Emma Alice, who had been unable to have any certainty around her fate. Had her body been lying unburied in the Waldron area, I was determined that we should find her and enable her family to give her a proper burial.

"However, it has been established, as far as is possible, that Emma Alice Smith was not murdered, but eloped with a man by the name of Thomas Wells, a 33-35 year-old roadworker, who left his wife and four young children between October 1928 and May 1930. It is believed that he and Emma Alice went to Southern Ireland.

"Between 1933 and 1936 there is evidence that there was an argument at a Sunday School outing between Emma Alice's mother and the wife of Thomas concerning the relationship between Emma Alice and Thomas.

"It appears that it was on Emma Alice's side of the family that the word of her murder started to evolve. Lillian Smith, a sister of Emma Alice, and now deceased, had told her niece that in the 1950s she had taken a death bed confession from a man claiming that he had murdered Emma Alice on her way to the train station in Horam whilst she was on route to a job as a maid in Tunbridge Wells.

"He had disclosed that he had put her body in a pond. Lillian was the only person who appeared to have concerns that Emma had been murdered. It has also now been established that Emma Alice worked locally and not in Tunbridge Wells.

"I am now satisfied that she was not murdered and this case is now closed."